What on earth could make a blog posting on a sparrow worth reading?
Well, people love stories of near tragedy, survival, and salvation, and this has some elements of them all.
A nesting pair of House Sparrows showed up at work this Spring, hidden in the metal framework of a second-story bridge connecting two brick buildings of typical government construction. Their nest lay only a foot from the heads of passers-by. No one paid them much attention until the hatchlings started calling incessantly for food. Then the nest became both busy and noisy.
The real story began after a wind storm struck one weekend, leaving behind an injured male sparrow. It was obvious that one of his wings had been damaged for we found him on a Monday morning walking up and down the concrete walkway, trying to dodge the frequent pedestrians, and not flying away to safety. In fact, it looked almost as if a wing had been torn off.
But what got everyone’s attention was the sight of him hopping down 12 feet of metal stairs to get to the ground, search for some food, then hopping all the way back up those stairs to defend his nest site, the best he could by being there, injured. Considering he was only about 3 inches high, those hops would be equivalent to us hopping up and down 232 feet of stairs, repeatedly.
I was probably not the first to test his flying ability, and indeed, when frightened he would fly a short distance to a palm tree trunk not far from the bridge. But then he would climb to a secure spot on top of the palm tree, rather than fly straight to the top. Flying for him had become a last result. It was difficult and seemingly painful for him, although he never cried out in pain or alarm, as I’ve heard sparrows can do.
The next day I borrowed some birdseed from a bird lover and set out a small pan of water, so the injured bird would not risk being eaten by the feral cats that roam our buildings at odd times of the day. When that seed was quickly eaten, a warrior friend of mine came asking for some seed so he could feed his bird.
His bird? So, I was not the only one taking an interest in this brave little male and his struggle for survival.
Unfortunately for the female, her mate was not able to forage for the young, and she had to work double-time. That could be why, as soon as the babies had fledged, the nest was emptied, and the female never returned to her mate for another breeding cycle. She could do better, I suppose.
In spite of his troubles, and probable pain, he remained the strong sounding male, calling, announcing his prime nesting site. Never mind that no other bird wanted it. If they had, they could easily have taken it from him since he was defenseless. But still, he thought, he had a job to do. It was a man-thing.
For weeks we would see that male, starting to hop down the stairs, to look for food, and if he happened to see my warrior friend or I bring food, he would turn around and hop back up the stairs to eat, rather than risk foraging on the barren ground. He became used to us caring for him. Of course, he always kept a safe distance from us.
One morning my warrior friend was visibly upset. Three female sparrows and a ringneck dove started mooching off the birdseed. He chased them off, as I did when I saw them, but they were persistent.
“How dare they steal food from my bird,” my friend said. “I’m gonna bring a BB gun and stack their little corpses up like cordwood.”
We both laughed at the irony of it.
And then he said, pensively, “I wonder how many birds I’ll have to kill to save this one?”
Others got into the protection business when three females, perhaps his offspring, ganged up on him when he was on the ground and started pouncing and pecking on him mercilessly. One of our female employees became angered by the attack on the injured male and chased the females away. After that, the male flew best he could back up to the relative safety of the second-story walkway.
And that was a good sign. He was growing stronger. A week later, I saw the sparrow flying instead of walking or hopping, and calling loudly to attract a female back to his nest, without success.
But I think the story is now complete, for today he left, fully healed, perhaps in search of more desirable real estate.
When I told my warrior friend the bird was gone, and that we had apparently saved him long enough for him to heal, he said, “You know, I go bird hunting a lot, but there was something about this guy that made me want to save him. It must be something psychological.”
“He was a brave soldier,” I said, “and you don’t leave an injured man to die on the battlefield without trying to save him.”
He smiled and nodded his head. He knew exactly what I meant.